The Government of the Slovak Republic, or Slovakia, does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Slovakia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating and prosecuting more suspected traffickers and establishing two anti-trafficking law enforcement working groups with Germany. The government continued to make efforts to prevent the trafficking of vulnerable refugees fleeing Ukraine, including by launching a public awareness campaign. The government launched a separate anti-trafficking public awareness campaign. The government assisted more trafficking victims, increased funding for victim assistance, and offered two trafficking-focused courses to prosecutors and judges. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Courts convicted significantly fewer traffickers and judges continued to issue lenient sentencing; for the second time in the past five years, all convicted traffickers received fully suspended sentences and served no jail time. This undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, weakened deterrence, created potential security and safety concerns for victims, and was not equal to the seriousness of the crime. Gaps in victim identification persisted, and the government did not adequately and proactively identify foreign national or Slovak trafficking victims within the country. The government did not report awarding restitution to any trafficking victims and reported awarding compensation to only one victim. Police remained the sole entity able to formally identify trafficking victims, which may have hindered victim identification and deterred some victims from seeking assistance.
Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
Continue to increase training for judges and prosecutors with a focus on a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to law enforcement efforts and trials as well as on the use of psychological coercion and fraud as means of trafficking.
Improve sentencing practices by training judges about the severity of trafficking crimes and the importance of applying the stringent penalties available under the trafficking law.
Improve efforts to proactively identify victims within the country, especially foreign nationals, asylum-seekers, and Roma, and increase training for government officials, particularly border police, labor inspectors, and municipal law enforcement, on proactive victim identification among vulnerable groups.
Allow formal victim identification by and referral from entities other than the police, including civil society, social workers, and healthcare professionals.
Improve the quality of human trafficking training courses available to prosecutors and judges.
Increase awareness of and trafficking survivor access to damages and compensation and increase prosecutors’ efforts to systematically request restitution for survivors during criminal trials.
Ensure labor trafficking is investigated and prosecuted as a trafficking crime and not pursued as an administrative labor code violation.
Increase migrant worker protections by increasing efforts to monitor labor recruitment companies, including prosecutions for fraudulent labor recruitment.
Continue efforts to inform foreign worker groups of worker rights and responsibilities and victim assistance resources in their native languages.
Enforce the law prohibiting recruitment fees charged to workers and ensure any recruitment fees are paid by employers.
Continue to pursue financial crime investigations in tandem with human trafficking cases.
Ensure consistent early access to free legal aid.
Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
Increase survivor input when forming policies, programs, and trainings.
The government maintained uneven law enforcement efforts – while investigations and prosecutions increased, convictions significantly decreased, and for the second time in the past five years, all convicted traffickers received fully suspended sentences and served no jail time. Section 179 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 10 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In February 2023, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) introduced a draft amendment proposing an increase in penalties for human trafficking, thereby eliminating the possibility for judges to issue suspended sentences to traffickers, and criminalizing the knowing use of services from a trafficking victim; however, at the close of the reporting period, the amendment remained pending. In July 2022, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) began drafting an amendment to the law on “minor offences,” including introducing non-penalization of trafficking victims for non-criminal administrative offenses they were compelled to commit, but the amendment remained pending at the close of the reporting period. In 2022, an interagency working group began drafting legislative amendments aimed at better defining and distinguishing the difference between labor exploitation and forced labor.
Law enforcement initiated investigations of 25 new cases in 2022, a small increase compared with 20 cases in 2021, but similar to 28 cases in 2020; 46 case investigations initiated in prior reporting periods remained ongoing. Of the 25 new investigations, 17 cases were for sex trafficking, six cases were for labor trafficking (including two for domestic servitude), and two cases were unspecified. Unlike prior years, law enforcement did not initiate any trafficking cases for forced criminality. Prosecutors indicted 30 alleged traffickers in 2022, an increase compared with 21 in 2021 and 14 in 2020, but less than 38 indictments in 2019. Courts convicted eight traffickers in 2022, a significant decrease compared with 21 in 2021, but similar to nine in 2020 and 11 in 2019. The government did not adequately disaggregate data between sex and labor trafficking for prosecutions or convictions. Courts overturned one conviction from a prior year on appeal. For the second time in the past five years, all convicted traffickers received fully suspended sentences and served no jail time. In comparison, of the 48 convicted rapists in 2022, 67 percent were sentenced to one year or longer imprisonment. Lenient sentencing, specifically fully suspended sentences, remained a serious concern; over the past nine years, approximately 71 percent of all trafficking convictions resulted in fully suspended sentences or a fine. In March 2021, the Information Center (IC) within the MOI published an extensive and comprehensive report. The report included the analysis of previous sentences for traffickers from 2015 to 2020, with a specific emphasis on the use of section 39 of the criminal code which permitted judges to reduce sentences below minimum sentencing thresholds. The report asserted that because judges applied section 39 to 77 percent of all trafficking cases, almost 70 percent of convicted traffickers received a sentence lower than the prescribed four-year minimum for conviction under Article 179; 64 percent of convicted traffickers received a suspended sentence; and even for those traffickers who received prison sentences, at least 10 traffickers (13 percent) were released from prison early. Lenient sentencing undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, weakened deterrence, created potential security and safety concerns – particularly for victims who cooperated with investigations and prosecutions – and was not equal to the seriousness of the crime.
Corruption, inefficiency, and lack of accountability within the judicial branch remained concerns and may have hindered law enforcement efforts. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes. While the government and government-funded NGOs continued to make efforts to institutionalize human trafficking training among law enforcement officials, including two one-day online trainings for judges and prosecutors on victim-centered approach and victim compensation in 2022, the participation of judges in these trainings remained low. on evidence of force and physical limitations on victims’ liberty in trialsExperts asserted a lack of understanding of the severity of the crime, the limited use of corroborating evidence, and an overreliance on the testimonies of traumatized victims contributed to lenient sentences for convicted traffickers. Furthermore, racial bias, particularly for cases involving victims from underserved Romani communities, may have contributed to more lenient sentences.
Police and prosecutors continued to cooperate with Europol, Eurojust, and Frontex, and continued cooperation with several joint law enforcement working groups in Germany investigating both sex and labor trafficking, two of which were established in 2022. In 2022, the government provided comprehensive anti-trafficking training to a variety of civil society stakeholders and government officials, including staff at asylum-seeker and immigration detention facilities, police and various law enforcement officials, consular staff, Ministry of Defense staff, personnel at the Legal Aid Center, and civic order community service staff in marginalized Romani communities. These trainings focused on improving identification of and assistance to trafficking victims, especially among asylum-seekers, foreign national migrants, Roma, and Ukrainian refugees; using a victim-centered approach when utilizing interview rooms and interviewing vulnerable victims; and free legal assistance available to victims.
The Coordination Department of the National Unit for Combatting Migration within the Bureau of Border and Alien Police (BBAP) had responsibility for coordinating national anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts; however, experts highlighted concerns regarding prioritization of trafficking and the department’s capacity and resources for domestic victim identification. Russia’s war against Ukraine further strained law enforcement anti-trafficking resources with over 1.2 million border crossings from Ukraine and approximately 110,000 refugees from Ukraine registering for temporary protection in Slovakia. Although there was no dedicated trafficking unit within the prosecution service, cases were usually assigned to those with experience prosecuting trafficking; prosecutors followed written guidance to provide victims with information on the prosecution process and resources available to them. Each of the eight regional prosecutorial offices had a human trafficking lead who could provide guidance and oversight on trafficking-related cases. However, , which they did not prosecute as trafficking crimes. The national police continued to cooperate with the police financial intelligence unit to uncover suspicious transactions indicative of trafficking, but did not report further results. In September 2022, the Government of the Netherlands coordinated a joint operation with 19 countries, including Slovakia, to target criminal networks using websites and social media platforms to recruit victims, including refugees from Ukraine, for sexual exploitation and sex trafficking; the operation resulted in 45 possible victims identified in the participating countries, 25 of whom were of Ukrainian nationality. In October 2022, 34 countries across Europe, including Slovakia, supported by EU agencies and international organizations, took part in several large-scale coordinated actions focused on sex trafficking, forced begging, and forced criminality. However, the police did not identify any traffickers or victims in Slovakia during these “action days.”
The government modestly increased protection efforts. The police formally identified 45 victims in 2022 (compared with 34 in 2021, 50 in 2020, and 53 in 2019); the victim-care service provider identified at least an additional six potential victims in 2022 (compared with eight in 2021 and 11 in 2020) for a total of 51 victims. This was an increase compared with 42 victims identified in 2021, but less than 61 identified in 2020 and 66 in 2019. Of the victims identified by police, 27 were women (10 girls) and 18 were adult men. Of the victims identified by police, 20 were sex trafficking victims, 24 were labor trafficking victims (including three cases of domestic servitude), and one was unspecified. Of the victims identified by police, all were Slovak nationals. Law enforcement prioritized screening Ukrainian refugees and issued a guideline to all regional branches of the police to report potential trafficking indicators, which resulted in several cases reported for trafficking indicators; however, officials did not identify any trafficking victims among refugees from Ukraine. Children comprised approximately 22 percent of the total victims identified. Gaps in victim identification remained a concern: despite the large number of non-EU nationals present in Slovakia (approximately 222,525 in December 2022) and increased vulnerability to trafficking, the government did not identify any foreign nationals as trafficking victims exploited in Slovakia, and 28 of 45 Slovak victims (62 percent) were identified abroad by other entities – a long-standing pattern in Slovakia. The government continued to utilize its NRM for victim identification and referral. However, the NRM focused heavily on the potential trafficking situations of foreign nationals in Slovakia or Slovak nationals abroad, but included little on trafficking situations Slovak nationals could experience within Slovakia. Law enforcement officials were the exclusive entities with authority to formally identify victims. However, experts have previously criticized the exclusive law enforcement authority to formally identify victims, asserting it may have hindered victim identification, deterred some victims from seeking assistance, and created a potential conflict of priorities between law enforcement efforts and victim assistance.
In 2022, the government provided €1.415 million ($1.512 million) of funding for a five-year period to an NGO operating the national victim-care program, voluntary repatriation, and the national trafficking hotline – broken down to an annual amount of €283,117 ($302,475) each year for the next five years. This was an increase compared with €208,274 ($222,515) allocated in 2021 and €212,451 ($226,978) in 2020. The government-funded, NGO-run victim assistance program provided Slovak and foreign victims with shelter, financial support, recovery assistance, cultural mediator services, repatriation to Slovakia, health care, psycho-social support, legal assistance, interpretation, and job training. The government-funded victim-care provider assisted a total of 35 victims in 2022 – 21 newly enrolled victims and 14 additional victims enrolled from previous years. Of the 35 victims assisted, six victims were persons with disabilities, three were foreign nationals, at least nine were sex trafficking victims, and at least 10 were labor trafficking victims. The percentage of victims who decided to enroll in the government-funded victim care program was typically low, though there was a noted increase in 2022 when 21 of 45 victims (47 percent) enrolled; this compared with 26 percent in 2021 and 20 percent in 2020. The program could assist a maximum of 20 trafficking victims. The victim-care service provider continued to note persistent concern that after deciding to leave the victim-care program, some survivors remained in poor mental states and frequently experienced homelessness. In its June 2020 Report, GRETA noted concern regarding the traditionally low participation in the victim-care program and urged the government to investigate further. Civil society criticized the quality of care and services provided to victims by the victim-care service provider and urged the provider to prioritize efforts to improve victim recovery and independence; civil society also recommended oversight of the program by an entity outside the MOI. The government reported foreign victims, including both EU nationals and third-country nationals, had access to the same scope and quality of victim care and support. All potential victims were eligible for at least 90 days of crisis care, regardless of whether they were formally identified by police; victims enrolled in the assistance program were eligible for up to 180 days of care without having to participate in an investigation. However, victims who chose to cooperate with law enforcement were eligible to access victim care for the duration of the investigation and trial, which was often much longer than 180 days. The government-funded victim-care service provider operated a shelter for trafficking victims that usually served a maximum of three to five trafficking victims; otherwise victims could also be accommodated in domestic violence shelters, with men and women housed separately, or in homeless shelters. Experts urged the government to ensure there were adequate specialized accommodations to address the unique needs of trafficking victims. There were limited accommodations for victims with families. Children were not usually assisted through the national victim-care program, rather authorities placed unaccompanied child trafficking victims in the care of child protective services in a government-run children’s home or an NGO-run crisis home for children. However, if a child trafficking victim required additional services, it was possible to utilize trafficking-specific services through the national victim-care program. The government-run children’s home was officially designated as responsible for child trafficking victims, among child victims of other crimes, and could accommodate up to eight victims.
Due to persistent gaps in victim identification, authorities may have detained or deported unidentified foreign national victims. In 2022, law enforcement authorities arrested, charged, or convicted foreign nationals for illegal cigarette production in several different cases; some experts raised concerns about whether the foreign nationals involved were sufficiently screened for trafficking indicators prior to the initiation of criminal proceedings. Additionally, authorities reported providing assistance to one Nepali asylum-seeker through a program administered by the MOI’s Migration Office; however, the victim was not formally identified by police and ultimately left the program. GRETA continued to express concerns related to the ability and willingness of labor inspectors and the BBAP to thoroughly screen undocumented migrant workers or asylum-seekers for trafficking indicators and refer them to assistance before deporting them. Asylum-seekers could be kept in detention for up to six months per Slovak law; the Center for Legal Aid visited detention centers at least twice during the reporting period with staff trained to identify trafficking victims, but did not report identifying any victims in 2021 or 2022. A government-funded NGO, responsible for administering the victim-care program and monitoring asylum-seeker and detention facilities for undocumented migrants, did not visit any detention centers during the reporting period and had not reported identifying any victims since at least 2018. In its June 2020 Report, GRETA urged the government to increase the quality of screening for trafficking victims. It was unnecessary for the government to grant work permits, as foreign victims received subsidiary protection and could work legally, although NGOs noted obstacles, including length of stay, sometimes precluded this. The law authorized permanent residency for foreign victims who would face hardship or retribution if returned to their country of origin; however, authorities issued no such residence permits during the reporting period.
The pre-trial and trial process was lengthy and not always adapted, nor prosecutors or judges sufficiently trained, to avoid re-traumatization of victims. The 2017 crime victim’s protection act provided psychological assistance to victims in pre-trial proceedings, banned direct cross-examination of victims, and allowed recorded testimony as official trial evidence, among other protections. However, civil society reported pre-recorded testimony was rarely used. To improve its victim-centered approach, the government utilized several victim interview rooms across Slovakia for vulnerable victims, including trafficking victims. However, civil society criticized law enforcement for sometimes pressuring victims to cooperate and having an overly interrogative approach to victim interviews, which could have deterred victim cooperation. Experts expressed concern that the law’s limit of one victim interview for law enforcement may have hindered opportunities to build rapport with traumatized victims, who were unlikely to provide reliable testimony in a single interview session. Though not systematic, judges were generally willing to accommodate requests to provide a separate waiting area for victims and remove the suspected trafficker from the courtroom during victim testimony. Furthermore, a 2020 guideline, required investigators to invite the government-funded NGO administering the victim-care program to victim interviews, to ensure victims knew their rights regarding the victim-care program, free legal advice, and restitution. The government’s victim-witness assistance program also consisted of providing secure accommodation to victims. In its June 2020 report, GRETA continued to urge the government to utilize its witness protection programs for trafficking victims as provided for under Act 256/1998.
Restitution from criminal cases, compensation from the government, and damages from civil suits were all available to trafficking victims, but courts rarely ordered or awarded any of these. The March 2021 IC report found that between 2015 and 2020, the court awarded restitution or government compensation to victims in only six of 39 cases. Courts did not award restitution to any victims in 2022. Civil society and the March 2021 IC report concluded prosecutors did not pursue a victim’s right to restitution in an attempt to avoid prolonging proceedings; experts encouraged the government to pursue a more streamlined mechanism for victims to obtain restitution, while not impeding trial proceedings. The 2017 crime victims protection act enabled the government to grant between €6,460 ($6,902) and €32,300 ($34,509) in compensation to victims from state funding if filed within one year. The amendment to the 2017 crime victims protection act simplified the process to receive compensation, enabling victims to claim compensation after the start of the criminal proceedings, as opposed to after completion. The government reported providing compensation to one trafficking victim in 2022. It was unknown whether any victims filed civil suits and the government did not report awarding damages to any victims in 2022. NGOs continued to argue excessive legal costs and lengthy proceedings discouraged many victims from filing civil suits. The victim-care service provider could provide victims with legal representation in criminal, civil, family or labor law matters in cooperation with law firms and pro bono attorneys. The government’s Legal Aid Center could only assist trafficking victims with civil cases and during asylum proceedings; however, to date they had not done so. The March 2021 IC report found the national victim-care provider was unaware of most cases in court proceedings, despite its responsibility to provide legal advice and representation to trafficking victims. The report concluded most trafficking victims had not received pre-trial legal counseling or been made aware of their rights, including for compensation and restitution; the report recommended increased access to free legal counseling as early as preparatory proceedings. In its 2020 report, GRETA urged the government to ensure trafficking victims had systematic early access to legal practitioners with specialized knowledge of trafficking who could represent them in criminal cases, with a view to supporting compensation claims. Under the 2017 crime victim’s protection act, victims who opted to seek compensation from their traffickers through a civil suit could not also request restitution through criminal proceedings.
The government increased prevention efforts. The State Secretary of the MOI was the national coordinator for the fight against trafficking. The Expert Group within the MOI’s Crime Prevention Department was led by the MOI State Secretary and functioned as the national anti-trafficking coordination committee; it met three times in 2022 and was responsible for coordinating policy documents, implementing and evaluating anti-trafficking programs with civil society, organizing trainings, evaluating trafficking-related action plans, and coordinating awareness-raising campaigns. The Expert Group comprised 29 members, including both government ministries and NGOs. The IC also contributed to national coordination by administering contracts for the victim-care program, gathering trafficking data, publishing an annual human trafficking report, coordinating awareness-raising campaigns, and functioning as the national rapporteur. However, GRETA questioned whether the IC was sufficiently independent to critically monitor national efforts. The government continued to fund and implement its 2019-2023 anti-trafficking NAP, in addition to action plans the government developed to implement anti-trafficking recommendations from GRETA’s 2020 report and the 2022 TIP Report. The MOI maintained staff at local and regional information centers throughout Slovakia who could offer information and assistance on all crimes, which included human trafficking; services included prevention, victim identification, and assistance such as psychological counseling and legal advice. In 2022, the regional centers helped identify one victim after referring the victim’s information to the police.
The government continued extensive trafficking prevention and public awareness campaigns and ensured messaging and images did not legitimize or perpetuate harmful victim stereotypes. In October 2022, the MOI launched a new public awareness campaign, in cooperation with one of the largest gas station chains, which included stickers with a campaign visual and relevant contacts displayed on the mirrors in restrooms at all gas stations, as well as campaign leaflets placed in the main area. The MOI also developed a separate campaign targeting refugees from Ukraine, with materials available in six languages, and distributed them at border crossings, refugee assistance centers, government offices, and made them available online. The government continued to operate a website in several languages, and continued to use media platforms to raise awareness. The police and the Crime Prevention Department reported delivering trafficking prevention trainings to approximately 100 staff members of foster care homes, 900 children and young adults in foster care, 237 high-school students, and 40 employees of two luxury hotels.
The MOI continued to make efforts to prevent the trafficking of refugees fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine by continuing to work closely with specialized trafficking international organizations, prioritize law enforcement attention at border areas and refugee assistant centers, as well as other prevention activities and trainings. In September 2022, the Slovak police reported conducting an anti-trafficking training for 15 officials from the Ukrainian border guard and customs authority. However, following government efforts to provide accommodation facilities for refugees from Ukraine, there were reports of private citizens, who had already received a government subsidy to house refugees, asking for additional payments from the refugees directly; this may have increased the vulnerability of refugees from Ukraine to exploitation and trafficking through debt-bondage. The government did not report efforts to address this potential exploitation of refugees from Ukraine. Concerns regarding foreign worker vulnerability to fraudulent labor recruitment and labor trafficking as well as low victim identification within this population remained significant. Foreign workers were able to change employment without requiring prior approval from the government.
The 2004 law on employment services prohibited labor recruiters from charging a recruitment fee to workers and employment agencies were required to register with the government. However, the government did not report law enforcement measures taken to enforce the prohibition of charging fees to workers or fraudulent labor recruitment. In its June 2020 report, GRETA urged the government to strengthen monitoring of recruitment and temporary work agencies. The government made efforts to inform refugees from Ukraine of their employment rights during the reporting period, but did not report further efforts on other foreign workers. Experts and civil society continued to urge the government to increase efforts to inform foreign worker populations of their rights; lack of awareness of the availability of services, language barriers, and fear of immigration officials continued to prevent some foreign victims from seeking help from authorities.
Civil society recommended increased victim identification training for labor inspectors to improve referrals to police. Despite the large foreign-worker population in Slovakia with an increased risk of trafficking, the government has not reported identifying any trafficking victims among this population through joint inspections between law enforcement and labor inspectors for at least the last six years, continuing to raise concerns regarding the government’s ability to identify trafficking victims, despite specific training. GRETA noted that joint inspections tended to focus on immigration enforcement rather than take a victim-centered approach, and continued to recommend anti-trafficking training for all labor inspectors, especially on victim identification and referral. Foreign trafficking victims without legal employment status may have been reluctant to discuss their trafficking situation with labor inspectors for fear of deportation, as it is regular practice for labor inspectors to contact the immigration officials if illegally employed foreign workers are identified. A government-funded anti-trafficking hotline, operated by an NGO, took calls for 12 hours a day in five languages, and identified 11 potential trafficking victims in 2022, five of whom entered the victim-care program with three cases where calls resulted in a police investigation. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Slovakia, and traffickers exploit victims from Slovakia abroad. Traffickers exploit Slovak men and women in labor trafficking in agriculture, manufacturing, and construction in Western Europe, increasingly in German-speaking countries. Traffickers exploit Slovak women in sex trafficking in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and other European countries. Increasingly, traffickers exploit victims domestically within Slovakia, a recent development that was exacerbated by pandemic-related border closures. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children, fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine, have crossed the Slovak border seeking sanctuary and are vulnerable to trafficking. Some temporary workers from non-EU European countries, recruited for the manufacturing and construction industries, are subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor, including non-payment of wages or extended working hours. NGOs report men and women, mostly from the Balkans and South-East Asia, are vulnerable to forced labor in Slovakia and may be unable or afraid to seek assistance from authorities. Women from South-East Asia are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service, restaurants, massage parlors, or spas. Slovak women of Romani descent are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking; traffickers transport them to the UK by force or deception for sham marriages for the purpose of sex trafficking or forced labor. Romani girls are vulnerable to forced “traditional” Romani marriages, which often includes the transfer of the girl into the care of her new “husband” where she is forced or coerced into domestic service. In some cases, parents of Slovak Romani children exploit their children in forced criminal activity in the UK. Traffickers force Slovak men, women, and children of Romani descent and Slovaks with disabilities and mental health conditions to beg throughout Western Europe. Traffickers exploit children without family or support structures who leave institutional care facilities in sex and labor trafficking.